In a surprise development, the Taoiseach has confessed to the Dáil that extending the pub opening hours and allowing nightclubs to serve drink until five in the morning won’t make much difference to him.
“It won’t impact on me, to any great extent. I have to say that.”
Well, of course it wouldn’t.
Micheál Martin sloping into one of Dublin’s remaining early houses for the last few scoops after pulling yet another boozy all-nighter with Eoin Ó Broin and Gerard Craughwell at one of Catherine Connolly’s legendary hip-hop parties in Rónán Mullen’s annex is a familiar sight to early risers in the capital during a sitting week.
No shortage of stamina for the Taoiseach either, now that he has upped his protein intake. As he told us last year when discussing a big shift in his boiled eggs routine: “I’m back on the yolks again!”
When Norma Foley is on the decks he can more than hold his own on the floor with Jim O’Callaghan busting his best moves and a tanked-up Heather Humphreys careering around the dresser with Aengus Ó Snodaigh.
But it’s all right for Micheál Martin and his fancy city ways, but does he not know that with his lust for late hours and wild dancing he is “going to destroy our young people and our countryside” and cause untold damage to Irish life?
Somebody had to speak out on Wednesday about the Government’s proposal to regularise the licensing laws — 10.30am opening all week, no special Sunday hours, later closing for pubs and late-night bars and a continental carousing until dawn option for club venues — and Mattie McGrath of the Rural Independents was the man to do it.
Just what does the Government think it’s at? He couldn’t get his head around this unnecessary tinkering with our antiquated laws governing the sale of alcohol.
He demanded answers from the Taoiseach.
In the middle of emergencies in housing and health, not to mention “the total mess” being made of the refugee situation, “have your Cabinet and yourself nothing better to do than to go and try to undermine and destroy the fabric of the publicans throughout the country with your proposals for late openings up to the morning in cities and big places?” thundered Mattie.
Not only that, but it is his understanding that the Government also intends to deregulate the issuing of pub licenses.
The Independent TD for Tipperary was concerned for all the family businesses which have given excellent service and support to their communities, in some cases for generations. But now, thanks to the proposals outlined by the Minister for Justice earlier this week, it looks like the Government is going to give a licence to anybody who takes a notion to open a lounge bar.
Mattie was nonplussed.
“Have you nothing else to do with the crime statistics and everything else only to come up with these mad proposals in a time of crisis?” he wailed across at the floor at the Taoiseach.
Mattie suspected the Government is trying to create a distraction from the critical issues facing the nation.
He had serious words for Micheál, whose term as head of Government is up in December, if he doesn’t want to risk posterity biting him on the posterior after he departs the top job.
“You have six weeks left in office as Taoiseach and is that going to be your legacy? That you won’t deal with any of the serious problems but bring in all this sideline stuff that nobody wants and nobody is interested in and it’s only going to destroy our young people and our countryside.”
The Taoiseach didn’t appear too worried. More weighty matters on his mind.
He was due have an important first conversation later in the day with the latest edition of the British prime minister and then he had to attend the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting and ponder that most profound of questions: whither Marc MacSharry? Destroying the fabric of publicans everywhere and threatening the very existence of the countryside, our young people and the nation with revised pub opening hours was a mere trifle in comparison.
Micheál pointed out to a discombobulated McGrath that there is no issue with the availability of alcohol around the country and that is not going to change. The Government merely wants to tidy up and modernise the rules around when and where it can be sold.
“Some organisations in the hospitality sector are welcoming this. Others may not.”
If the deputy was concerned about “the extinguishing” of licences, “there are conditions attached to that as well.”
“And new licences,” interjected Mattie.
“It’s not a full extinguishing…” continued Micheál, speaking in riddles now.
“There are hundreds of them for sale,” barked Mattie.
The Taoiseach rambled on. “In terms of new licence, the existing system inhibits a person in rural Ireland, for example, who may want to provide a service, you know, and, em, that option, and so…”
“You can’t give away a pub,” harrumphed Mattie.
“I think you’re being a bit over-dramatic in your description of the legislation,” chided Micheál.
The Leas-Cheann Comhairle gently pinged the closing time bell. Just to give them a nudge.
“I am not!”
Ah, you are, Mattie.
“It will destroy our country,” he quivered. Mark his words.
Catherine Connolly tinkled the bell a little harder. Finish up now please. “Thank you. Thank you. We’re over time.”
They kept going, draining the last few drops out of the new pub rules.
“It won’t impact on me to any great extent, I have to say that,” smiled the Taoiseach, without explaining why. (See our comprehensive explanation above, which, upon sober reflection, may be slightly exaggerated in every way and possibly even completely made up. Thank heavens Irish politicians don’t sue.)
Anyway, the new opening hours not impacting on Micheál once they are introduced is neither here nor there.
“Sure you’ll be gone,” harrumphed Mattie.
But then again...
“There might be some younger members of the Cabinet who could avail of the 6am closing, but I don’t think I’d be among them,” said the Taoiseach.
The Leas-Cheann Comhairle rang her bell again. “Thank you, deputies. We’re over time.”
Have yis no second homes to go to?